The real risk of cycling? Cycling safer than walking down the road in Q2 09!

It's that time of year again when casualty figures for our roads in the last quarter are released and, inevitably, there has been some hand-wringing over the fact that there has been an increase in cyclist deaths.  The AA were first off the mark with a suitably unhelpful response "This is a problem you have when you get a whole new wave of cyclists coming to the road" said Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety.  Even our own CTC has been beating out the message that the safety in numbers effect will take time to come into play, and that the extra injuries could be down to a glut of inexperienced riders on the road. (Sound familiar?) 

But is this all a percentile flash in the pan?  If you look at the actual figures, there has been a 9% increase in cyclist deaths and serious injuries, contrasting a 4% decrease over the previous two quarters (which, I note, went largely unreported at the time).  In real terms this represents approximately 132 more cyclist deaths or serious injuries in the last quarter, and tragic whilst this is I haven't heard a peep from the AA about the 4920 automobile users' deaths or serious injuries in the previous quarter...  Yes, that's 97% more deaths and serious injuries in cars than on bicycles.

So let's turn the statistics on their heads.  Using the same figures here is a news flash even Boris Johnson would be proud of:  Cycling safer than walking down the road in 2nd quarter of 2009! 

Deaths and serious injuries as a % of total casulaties in Q2 09:
11%  Cyclists
19%  Pedestrians
26%  Motorcylists
38%  Cars

Slight injuries as a % of total casualties in Q2 09:
8.36%  Cyclists
10.5%  Pedestrians
08.6%  Motorcylists (presumably few injuries on motorbikes are slight)
66%  Cars

I'm rather proud of those percentages - I worked them out myself from the official data.  It made my head sore.

Malcolm Wardlow BSc MBA in 'Assessing the actual risks faced by cyclists' writes:

"Pedestrians bear a higher fatality rate than cyclists, by a factor of almost 1.5...

...the belief that cycling is dangerous turns out to be a factoid; opinion based on long repetition, not evidence."

And just in case you're one of those people who is worried that cycling is not only dangerous, as oppose to everyday and ordinary, but that furthermore  cyclists pose a serious risk to other road users and pedestrians, Mr Wardlow has the following nugget for you:
"Typically only 3- 7 third parties are killed in fatal bicycle crashes annually, as against 145 cyclist deaths.  In fatal car crashes 1,600 third parties (600 passengers, 650 pedestrians, 75 cyclists, 250 motorcyclists) are killed in addittion to 1,100 drivers."

There, that's enough of selling newspapers on stories sensationalising our roads and making cycling out to be dangerous when it is not.  Let's get on and ride!


WestfieldWanderer said...

Mark: You've quoted Wardlaw incorrectly:
It should read: "Pedestrians bear a higher fatality rate than cyclists,
by a factor of almost 1.5;"
...not 1.5%. There's a HUGE difference! A factor of 1.5 is 150%!

Not sure that quoting statistics convinces anyone, though. It's perceptions that will always count. You have to make people feel safe on bikes if we are to see any significant increase in cycling numbers in this country. And for that we will have to see a cycle friendly road infrastructure on a par with the Netherlands and Denmark. And I very much doubt if anything like that will be seen in Britain any time soon. There is too great an aversion towards cycling amongst the British - especially in the Establishment.

See David Hembrow's blog posts on "subjective safety".

ibikelondon said...

Woooooops - a late-night slip of the fingers there, thanks for pointing it out and it's duly fixed.

I agree entirely that we need full cycling infrastructure in this country.

I also agree that people need to feel subjectively safe - which is why I tried to demonstrate with the same figures that the media are currently using to report as a 'massive rise' in cyclist deaths can also be used to show cycling is the safest mode of transport.

Thanks for the link to the always brilliant David Hembrow

Unknown said...

Thanks for crunching the numbers. Statistics like this are so important to remind people that the real danger is the automobile.

Anonymous said...

Pedestrians bear a higher fatality rate than cyclists, by a factor of almost 1.5...

Statistically this is a bit misleading.
Pedestrians have 1.5 times as many deaths as cyclists - however, there are many more pedestrians around than cyclists. So this is not unexpected.

When you talk about a "fatality rate", you should really talk about number of deaths per person doing that activity- number of deaths per activity, if you like.

If you measure deaths per journey, then cycling is usually found to be more dangerous than walking.

However, if you measure deaths per km, then cycling is extraordinarily safe, much more so than walking.

ibikelondon said...

The 1.5 figure comes from peer-reviewed papers. The point of the article is not to establish which is safer (cycling or walking) but to demonstrate that with the same figures that the media were using to portray cycling as dangerous you can make it seem safer even than walking.

Either way the point is this; both cycling and walking are inherently safe modes of transport. The only major source of danger comes into the equation when they are forced to share the same space with other road users. My point being this; instead of the press terrifying the general public off of their bikes they should be scaring them out of their cars.

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